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Smalls Sliders has its foundation in place and is now entering a ‘pivotal’ time

Smalls Sliders is disrupting the burger space by keeping things simple. The company, founded in 2019, expects to have about 350 agreements signed by the end of this year.


Just a year ago, Smalls Sliders was recognized by Nation's Restaurant News as an NRN Breakout Brand. Now, with about 180 units open or under development in eight (soon to be nine) states, the fledgling brand is positioning itself as a disruptor in the intensely competitive burger category.

Founded in 2019 by Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux creator Brandon Landry, the first Smalls location opened in Baton Rouge, La., and quickly garnered plenty of attention. That’s because the concept features a focused menu of cheeseburger sliders, waffle fries, shakes, and fountain drinks served from a roughly 800-square-foot modular shipping container, or “can,” as the company calls it. Former NFL player (and likely Hall of Famer) Drew Brees was among those who paid attention early on, and the quarterback became an early investor alongside 10 Point Capital.

With this simple menu and operating model in play, Smalls investors knew they wanted to scale the concept and do so quickly. They brought on industry veteran Maria Rivera as CEO, who moved the company to Atlanta from Baton Rouge, La., to ensure sufficient proximity to talent and resources. Now, Rivera feels like the chain is entering a new phase. Indeed, Smalls just went through a comprehensive brand “refresh,” updating its logo and website, rolling out online ordering and third-party delivery systemwide, and launching a new loyalty program in partnership with Thanx. Rivera describes the loyalty program as “very simple, approachable.”

All of these updates are aimed at tying together the brand’s purpose, mission and vision – respectively, to make everyone’s day a small bit better, to serve cheeseburger sliders better than anyone else, and to be the cheeseburger slider brand that shakes up the big burger industry.

“Last year was a truly transformational year for us. Now people have heard about us and want us in their community,” Rivera said. “We think about this as entering our second era – redefining and reimagining what is possible. Handheld sliders are disrupting the space.”

Sliders have been around as long as the quick-service category has been a thing, but for its part, Smalls is no doubt causing some disruption from its modular model, which creates a tighter labor line, faster opening times, and lower startup and operating costs. Combined, this model has helped drive AUVs over $2 million and has created a strong proposition for potential franchisees, Rivera said. That said, customers are also intrigued. They like simple and authentic. They like the extremely identifiable “Smorange” color Smalls has created, and the signature “Smauce,” and made-to-order cheeseburger sliders.

“When we went through our reimagined refresh, we learned we attract three generations of customers – millennial parents, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha. This brand resonates with each generation,” she said. “If we stay in this listening mode journey, we have an opportunity to be relevant and think through those lenses at a faster rate than perhaps a legacy brand. That is what allows us to be disruptive, in addition to the fact that we have a phenomenal product. We’re not necessarily competing, but rather marching to our own beat.”

Notably, while the menu is focused, the company is no stranger to innovation and in fact just rolled out a King Cake Shake to coincide with Mardi Gras (and its Louisiana roots). Rivera said “cold indulgence” is a space the chain could play well in but adds that any innovation has to be done through a strong filter to keep things simple. The King Cake Shake didn’t add one SKU, for instance.

“We need to innovate, but we challenge ourselves to work with what we have and what’s meaningful for us. You have to work harder to do that and walk yourself back from thousands of (ideas),” Rivera said. “We’re not going to overcomplicate ourselves. I appreciate how other brands have other menu items, but that’s not us.”

So, what does the next phase look like? For starters, the brand will remain disciplined. Rivera notes, for example, that the company has turned down international deals and 100-unit deals. That said, she expects 200 signed deals in place by the end of February and then it’s full speed ahead.

“The health of the business is very strong. There is a lot of confidence we’re building something value accretive for our new partners,” she said. “It’s fair to say we’ll have over 350 signed by the end of this year. That’s monumental. We are entering a pivotal time.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

Be sure to vote for your favorite chain on our LinkedIn or Instagram pages. The winner will be announced the week of Feb. 19.

See more from the Burger Showdown:

Wayback Burgers


Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Next Level Burger

Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes

Savvy Sliders

Hat Creek Burger Co.

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